A new perspective on the past

Marina Amaral is an extremely talented lady.  Based in her native Brazil, she has mastered the art of retouching black and white photographs in order to bring them to vivid life for the modern era. Her work varies from profound subjects to the most mundane and she is accepting commissions to breathe a little colour back into whatever subjects her clientele might wish to revive.

It is incredibly hard to convey the relevance of even our recent past to the generations coming through.  To a vast majority of people raised in the digital age, everything is disposable and nothing is sacred. If something cannot be related to and offer tangible pleasures then all too often it is discarded. Marina’s work makes the other-worldliness of old photographs fresh and challenges the eye.

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Marina Amaral reveals the man behind the moustache: Neville Chamberlain arrives home from Munich

In the 1980s, space was filled in the early evening schedules of BBC2 with silent ‘shorts’ by Harold Lloyd, ‘Buster’ Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Children would watch them after Grange Hill and Crackerjack had finished in preference to the early evening news – the S&G among them – and wonder what it must have been like when humans could only see the world in black and white.

Today such films are never put in front of a youngster unless by accident.  As a result, the unbridled joy of watching grown-ups wallop each other and fall over, let alone learning about the broad palate of emotions that they are sensing in the world through the elegant mime of truly great actors, is denied to them.

Having spent far too many hours in museums this year, often with tides of teenagers ebbing and flowing around the corridors, it was clear that the relationship between past and present is becoming fractured. School history lessons are a drudge of irrelevance to most kids. In school, the subject appears to have been boiled down to putting on fancy dress and then writing about how they believe people felt.

Skills like Marina’s offer a unique opportunity for families, schools and publishers to redress the balance somewhat. That is a truly valuable resource to have.

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The Red Baron emerges in another of Marina Amaral’s pieces

 

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A great blog for a momentous anniversary

Contrails filled the sky over England - and elsewhere - 75 years ago

Contrails filled the sky over England – and elsewhere – 75 years ago

We are fast approaching the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, meaning that much will be said, written and broadcast between now and October – including here at the S&G. An abundance of Spitfires and Hurricanes, a Blenheim and some Gladiators will take to the skies and much will be said about ‘The Few’ – no matter how inaccurate some of those comments will be. Air raid sirens will wail and Churchill’s words will growl.

Before we hurl ourselves into the occasion, however, feel free to savour a truly remarkable blog about another campaign in the summer of 1940, during which the fate of an island nation was plunged into jeopardy – and with it the course of human kind: Malta GC 70.

Malta became a target for bombers in the summer of 1940

Malta became a target for bombers in the summer of 1940

In 2011 the enterprising individual behind this blog began putting up posts that told the reader exactly what had happened on the same day 70 years earlier – how many bombs fell, how many aircraft flew, how many shells were fired and how many casualties there were. This was to mark 70 years since the peak of the Battle of Malta and to build towards the commemorations of 70 years since the Maltese were recognised with the George Cross.

Now the blog is back in action, adding to the story by putting up daily details of the first weeks of the siege, to mark 75 years since the moment that Mussolini belatedly declared war on Britain and attempted to restore the Roman empire in the Mediterranean.

It is an astonishing body of work that tells far more than the legend of Faith, Hope and Charity. It brings to vivid life the daily realities for the Maltese, British and Empire nationals who were caught up in the maelstrom – and, thanks to the option to receive posts by email, provides a thought-provoking and entirely welcome window on the past almost every day of the week. Enjoy – and do come back to the S&G when you have a moment!

Steaming in to Didcot

In the pursuit of another enquiry, I happened to stop off at the Didcot Railway Centre, which looks like an ideal way to spend the day. Whether or not the long, hot British summer continues, one should hope that the place becomes a goldmine for its dedicated supporters.

Didcot in the sunshine is a spectacular spot

Sitting just to the south of Oxford on the A34, Didcot became part of the Great Western Railway network in 1839. A major station was built and it became a vital staging post for troop and materiel movements during both World Wars. By the late 1960s car ownership had taken a heavy toll on the station’s usefulness and so a small and simple platform, Didcot Parkway, was retained while most of the rest of the site was given over to commuter car parking.

Fortunately for posterity the main engine shed, several sidings and buildings were saved by the Great Western Society, and now you can while away an afternoon drinking in the sights and sounds of the old GWR.

A decent sized area has been preserved by the Society – this is the entrance

The engine shed is undoubtedly the main attraction at Didcot

One rather striking addition to the displays is the wartime air raid shelter – which also provides a welcome respite from whatever the weather is throwing at you on any given day. It’s a very solid fortification – and rightly so, as railway lines were a valuable target to both sides.

Outside the railwaymen’s air raid shelter

Inside the wartime bunker

Unsurprisingly, Dicot has been used by a plethora of production companies. Everything from Inspector Morse to Sherlock Holmes and about forty thousand wartime dramas and kids TV shows. At the moment the Society is plugging the fact that the locomotive shed was used as Moscow’s main station in the recent remake of Anna Kerenina, with Jude Law and Keira Knightley.

If you’ve watched anything with old trains in it… Didcot was probably involved

Here are some of the many artefacts that caught my eye. At a fiver per adult entry won’t break the bank, but do bear in mind that the car park is extortionate, being intended for commuter use. That said, if you visit on the weekend and pack the car with children then it gets considerably more cost-effective.

Period luggage and accessories make a nice feature

Some of the First Class travellers’ essentials

GWR was your passport to the Welsh Riviera

The main event is the locomotive collection, many of which still steam and go through their paces on open days

During World War 2 the railways took on a dour look but performed vital service

After World War 2 the ‘Big Four’ railway lines – GWR, LMS, LNER and Southern were nationalised and became British Railways, launching 1000 jokes about poor catering

Watercress Line goes back in time

In a fit of feeling that perhaps we were, as a family, ignoring the wonders of steam we went to the Watercress Line’s ‘War on the Line’ event a couple of years ago. It’s one of the highlights of the year for the – ahem – army of re-enactors who spend their weekends in all weathers getting themselves all dolled up as servicemen and women and scaring small children with their impromptu renditions of Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

War on the Line is an annual weekend-long festival

War on the Line is an annual weekend-long festival

The Watercress Line runs through four immaculately restored stations between Alton and Alresford in Hampshire and features a number of specialist events, from Thomas & Friends for the youngsters to real ale weekends for chaps with a fondness for sandals and facial topiary. Or maybe Inspector Morse. However, for one weekend each year the entire line is given over to the sights and sounds of the Home Front in 1939-45.

And I mean the whole line…

Now come on - you don't see that every day

Now come on – you don’t see that every day

You never know who will be on your carriage

You never know who will be on your carriage

Once you’ve accepted that the 21st Century got left behind in the car park, things soon become startlingly normal, being back in the mid-1940s. One starts to wonder whether any of the people around you own a television. Or a pair of jeans. The thing is that after going to all the trouble of getting kitted out to the enth degree of accuracy, the allure of modern dress must dwindle significantly.

For one weekend a year, the trains are about the least historic thing on view

For one weekend a year, the trains are about the least historic thing on view

The ideal spot for a bacon buttie and cup of Rosie Lee

The ideal spot for a bacon buttie and cup of Rosie Lee

On our visit the American GIs were far and away the most numerous of all the social groups sculling around the Hampshire countryside. Perhaps it’s the desire to be over-sexed and over-paid, or the popularity of Saving Private Ryan. All that can be sure is that every member of the re-enactment congregation is casting an informed eye over their companions and quick to spot the slightest faux pas.

Lunch at the NAAFI wagon

Lunch at the NAAFI wagon

Shopping for those essential little details or a whole new outfit

Shopping for those essential little details or a whole new outfit

For anyone thinking of going to the Goodwood Revival, the dedication of the visitors to the Watercress Line is a salutary lesson. Not much here came from eBay or a joke shop. In fact one does feel a touch concerned in the summer sunshine that the pervading scent of mothballs might suddenly ignite into a ten mile long fireball…

Spivs selling nylons and other black market goodies are popular

Spivs selling nylons and other black market goodies are popular

Many photo opportunities are to be had at an event like this

Many photo opportunities are to be had at an event like this

Ryan's privates need saving again, I see...

Ryan’s privates need saving again, I see…

Going to an event like this and not being in period schmutter doesn’t feel altogether odd. Everyone’s just pleased to see you, delighted if you take an interest and getting on with getting on with their weekend. The Watercress Line is an astonishing venue because it filters out pretty well everything that you might expect of modern day-to-day life over such a vast expanse of this green and pleasant land.

I don't know where you get them from but, yes, I want one.

I don’t know where you get them from but, yes, I want one.

In case you were wondering, there are trains too

In case you were wondering, there are trains too

At every station there are things to see

At every station there are things to see

It really is a fantastic day out, with not a stick-on moustache in sight. Why not pop over to the Watercress Line and book your tickets for this year’s show? You never know where it might take you…

The jitterbug club stops for tea

The jitterbug club stops for tea

SAS call in for a cheap day return

SAS call in for a cheap day return

Knackered WAAF takes time out at the end of the day

Knackered WAAF takes time out at the end of the day

American idol – The Great Waldo Pepper (new link to film clip)

If you want movies about aircraft done properly, better get a pilot to make them. That’s why The Great Waldo Pepper is such a joy – because it was the work of George Roy Hill.

A feisty presence in the Hollywood firmament, Hill was something of an outsider among the great and the good of La-La-Land. As a child inthe 1920s and 1930s he idolised the great fighter pilots of World War 1, and when war broke out once again he enlisted as a pilot – flying a cargo aircraft around the Pacific in WW2, but becoming a nightfighter ‘ace’ in the Korean war.

Upon leaving the military, Hill worked as a journalist and then took an interest in theatre. He moved quickly to television and then on to making movies, with his debut coming in a 1962 adaptation of A Period of Adjustment by Tennessee Willams. An up-and-down career then hit paydirt with A Thoroughly Modern Millie starring Julie Andrews, which was followed by his best-loved hit: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The leading men on Butch and Sundance, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, soon learned not to fall foul of their tempestuous director’s strong work ethic. Late arrival on set would see guilty parties strapped in to Hill’s 1930 Waco biplane and subjected to a bracing aerobatic flight.

“If you weren’t on time, he’d take you up in his airplane,” Newman later recalled. “Scared the bejesus out of us.”

It was Newman’s co-star, Robert Redford, with whom Hill’s other enduring successes were achieved. First came The Great Gatsby and then probably the most personal film of Hill’s career in the form of The Great Waldo Pepper, a paean to the barnstorming days of the 1920s aviation boom in which Redford plays a charming, roguish pilot who saw too little of World War 1 but tells a good tale and trades on his matinee idol looks to good effect.

Together with talents such as Bo Svensson, Bo Brundin and the glamour of both Susan Sarandon and Margot Kidder, this is an oft-overlooked gem of a movie and one that is perfect for S&G readers. So enjoy this little clip as Hill takes Waldo to Hollywood…